How to Impress Guests with Red & Green Mole – or, the Most Martha Stewart-y Thing I Will Ever Post
Like most people, I have many passions in life. Passions are wondrous things. While our intellectual treasures explain and define life, our passions make that life well worth living. Occasionally, some of those passions overlap and life becomes blissful indeed.
For me, three things that are guaranteed to make me sing and dance through the evening are eating good food, creating delicious meals and entertaining friends and loved ones. I figure there must be some folks out there that share one or more of these passions, if not all. To that end, I have decided to post a cooking post – something that, unless I am mistaken, we might have not have ever done here before. I am going to take some time of this cloudy, dreary December morning to teach everyone how to make simplified versions of Red and Green Mole.
Recipes will follow below.
At this time of year, making red or green moles serves a few potential (and potentially overlapping) purposes. It can make by now tiresome Turkey leftovers a new and vibrant dish. You can use it for relatively easy dinner parties that guests will gush over. You can serve it with steak, pork, or roasted, baked, fried or grilled chicken to guests and impress the hell out of them. Plus the two distinct colors have a natural holiday flair.
For those not familiar with it, mole (pronounced MOE-lay) is a style of cooking from Mexico’s more Southern regions. It has been explained to me that the literal translation of mole is something like “cooked salsa” or even “sauce.” For years I had thought mole was a kind of cooking sauce made with chocolate; it turns out this is not at all correct. There are thousands of mole variations throughout Mexico, and few of them contain chocolate. For whatever reason canned mole sauce in the States was at some point made with chocolate, and now whenever you see it served in North-of-the border restaurants it will be a thick, brown sauce with woody chocolate flavors. But just as authentic enchiladas and tacos have turned out not just to be ground beef and American cheese in a tortilla, real moles are astoundingly diverse; what passes for mole in the USA is hard to find in Mexico, save for those restaurants catering to us tourists looking for the familiar.
I first started studying moles years ago after my wife and I spent our 10th anniversary exploring the non-Cancun-y parts of the Yucatan Peninsula. The style of cooking, which is essentially pulverizing chiles and spices with vegetables, lard and other types on ancillary ingredients, was used in celebratory meals by the Aztecs. Since then, each region of central and southern Mexico developed its own moles using ingredients common to each particular area. So a common red mole from Oaxaca might well be entirely unlike one common in the Yucatan.
The two mole recipes I have chosen to share are made to be served together, but either can well stand on its own. The original recipes I started with were Rick Bayless recipes, but I have tweaked them over the years; Diane Kennedy’s influence is also present in the evolutions. Each have been simplified from the original recipes I first started with years ago; so, for example, neither recipe involves the hours of wrist-tiring mortar and pestle work often associated with a good mole. Also, neither requires the roasting-drying-reroasting of chiles. The green is the more time consuming; I can make this modified red in about 20 minutes, as the green is simmering. Either can be made a day or even more in advance.
If you try this at home, especially for friends, know that the green will turn out surprisingly tangy; you may wonder when it is done who sneaked in a hint of lime. It will act more in the way we think a traditional sauce works. The red is used more as a condiment. It adds an earthy heat, and depending upon how many chiles you use can be very, very hot indeed. I would encourage you to suggest your guest try a small amount of the red and add additional as needed. Neither will taste remotely like anything you can buy in a store, and even if you are a lover of Mexican food already these will each have very new and unique flavors.
As I said above, these work amazingly well with almost any non-fish meat. (The more subtle taste and texture of fish tends to be blown away by the complex tastes of these two moles.) Vegetarians and vegans will find that adding these to roast vegetables or tofu makes a superb and popular entree. However, my preference with each (assuming you are not making it for your turkey leftovers) is chicken hind quarters, cooked in anyway that leaves those legs browned and juicy. In my house, we either barbecue the legs with a tiny bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, or we quickly brown the legs on the stove and then bake or roast them to completion. (If you cook beef, lamb or pork, cook it in whatever fashion you prefer and slice before serving.)
Ready? Great! Here we go:
1 – Cup green pumpkin seeds
3 – Cups chicken broth (or veggie broth)
1 – 13 oz. can tomatillos, drained, or 1 to 1 and 1/4 cup green salsa [See update just below about choosing between the two]
3 – Serrano Chiles, seeded and chopped roughly
1 – Small Medium Onion, chopped roughly
3 – Leaves of Romaine Lettuce
3 – Cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped or pressed\
1/2 a bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped, including stems
2 to 3 Teaspoons of Ground Cumin
1 to 2 Teaspoon(s) Ground Pepper
1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Cloves
Juice of 1-3 Limes
Peanut or Canola Oil
1. Put a skillet on medium heat. When hot, toast the pumpkin seeds in 2 or 3 batches. It will take about five minutes, and the seeds will turn a combination of lighter green, yellow, and light brown. Be careful not to burn; slightly less toasted is a better way to err than slightly over toasted.
2. When done, let cool (These suckers really retain their heat, so be careful when handling for a while after they are off the stove.) Put into a coffee or spice grinder and pulverize into a powder. (5 or 10 seconds) Put in a bowl, and add 1 cup of chicken broth; stir and set aside.
3. Take tomatillos (or green salsa), garlic, chilies, lettuce, cilantro and spices and put them into a blender. Blend the crap out of them. (The romaine leaves will make the mixture turn an almost neon green.) Because of the volume, you might choose to blend a few ingredients, then add more, then blend, etc. If you have a smaller blender you might also find that blending in 2 batches helps.
4. Heat large skillet or pot on medium. Pour in a small amount of oil, enough to coat the bottom. Pour in the pumpkin seed both mixture, and stir until very thick and pasty. (Usually about 4 to 6 minutes.)
5. Pour in the green veggie-spice mixture, and stir a few minutes longer.
6. Add last two cups of chicken broth, stir and simmer, semi-covered, over low heat for about 20 to 30 minutes. Add lime juice to taste.
7. (Optional step) You can, if you wish, take the final product and strain it to make a less textured sauce. A lot of people do this, but I prefer the texture as is at this point. Besides, most of what you strain out is pumpkin seed pulp, and I like the nuttiness it adds.
Serve over or under meat, or put in serving bowl. Add red mole as desired.
Update: Having just gotten some feedback, I have been informed that – regarding the choice of canned tomatillos or the green salsa – the green salsa is the better and more flavorful choice. I think this is very correct. I confess I use the tomatillos because if feels less lazy and removed from the original than the salsa, but the green salsa does make the superior tasting dish, more tangy than the far more subtle tomatillo. But using the tomatillos might make you feel less short-cutty and a wee more more authentic. Your choice.
1 – 28 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes in juice
2 to 4 Canned Chipotles, seeded, plus between a teaspoon and tablespoon of the canning liquid. (The more or less you add affects the heat of the mole, of course.)
3 – Garlic cloves, pressed or chopped
3 teaspoons cumin
3 – Canned chipotle chiles with sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 cups chicken both (or veggie broth)
Peanut of Canola Oil
1. Put all ingredient, aside from broth and oil, into blender. Blend the crap out of them.
2. Heat small amount of oil in pan on medium to medium-high heat. Pour in blended mixture, stirring constantly. (This stirring, btw, is less for cooking than making sure red splatters do not adorn your kitchen for the rest of the evening.) Do this for about 5 or 6 minutes.
3. Once the mixture begins to thicken, stir in the two cups of broth. Bring to boil for about 2 minutes, then cover and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.
Serve as a condiment to the dinner, or put a spoonful on tortillas as you cook to snack. (This mole will made a pretty easy and awesome enchilada sauce, btw.)
There you go! Aside from the meats listed above, these go really well with potatoes and sauted greens, and you are likely to find your guests lathering everything over everything, a la Thanksgiving gravy.
I usually serve with some kind of cool fruit salad. (My fave is watermelon, arugula, goat cheese and toasted pine-nuts drizzled with a balsamic vinegar and honey reduction.)
As far as wines go, if you like it – go with it.